In Hinduism, is there a concept of evolution? If so, how it it portrayed? I seen a YouTube video that I am unable to find again that says that the Vedic text says that beings evolve from most complex being to the simplest being(backwards from scientific conception), but also states that consciousness evolves from the simplest to the most complex. Is this true?

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    What the Vedas describe is unrelated to the scientific theory of evolution. They do describe changes in the forms of beings, but calling that evolution is kind of a stretch. (Don't know enough about this to write an answer, but hopefully someone will.)
    – senshin
    Jun 19, 2014 at 16:44
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    I am not sure whether you are asking about this, the avatars of Vishnu is often compared with the evolution theory. See the link en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashavatara
    – user11
    Jun 19, 2014 at 18:20
  • @A_runningMind This popular notion of the dasavatara portraying evolution is incorrect and one retro-fitted to "modern scientific inclination". According to bhagavata puranam, the very first avatara was Yagnya varaha avatara not matsya.
    – user1195
    Feb 10, 2015 at 15:09
  • As far as I know, the Vedas themselves don't mention any of the avatars of Vishnu (although I recently learned that "Rudra" in some scriptures can sometimes refer to Narasimha).
    – AdityaS
    Feb 10, 2015 at 20:59
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    @KeshavSrinivasan I understand the context in which evolution is being talked about here. I am saying it may not be limited to animal kingdom alone and is much more expansive. Second, there are some roundabout sources for the evolution I mention. Vedas mention para, pasyanti, madhya and vaikhari and the turiya (i.e.vaikhari) is said to be limited to the human form. Panini in his Ashtadhyay has apparently expounded on this and stated the sound present in stone is para, in vegetation it is pasyanti, in animals madhyama and has evolved into vaikhari in humans.
    – user1195
    Mar 6, 2015 at 14:34

7 Answers 7


Evolution can be seen from 2 different aspects, the cosmic and the particular. From a particular standpoint I mean evolution as it occurs in man and in nature. Patanjali is his Yoga Aphorisms (IV. 2-3.) says that evolution is caused by the infilling of nature. Here are the two verses with the translation and commentary of Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, V1 pp 291-292, and here under the title of Raja Yoga - http://cwsv.belurmath.org/volume_1/vol_1_frame.htm)

  1. The change into another species is by the filling in of nature.

Patanjali has advanced the proposition that these powers come by birth, sometimes by chemical means, or through mortification. He also admits that this body can be kept for any length of time. Now he goes on to state what is the cause of the change of the body into another species. He says this is done by the filling in of nature, which he explains in the next aphorism.

  1. Good and bad deeds are not the direct causes in the transformations of nature, but they act as breakers of obstacles to the evolutions of nature: as a farmer breaks the obstacles to the course of water, which then runs down by its own nature.

The water for irrigation of fields is already in the canal, only shut in by gates. The farmer opens these gates, and the water flows in by itself, by the law of gravitation. So all progress and power are already in every man; perfection is man's nature, only it is barred in and prevented from taking its proper course. If anyone can take the bar off, in rushes nature. Then the man attains the powers which are his already. Those we call wicked become saints, as soon as the bar is broken and nature rushes in. It is nature that is driving us towards perfection, and eventually she will bring everyone there. All these practices and struggles to become religious are only negative work, to take off the bars, and open the doors to that perfection which is our birthright, our nature.

Today the evolution theory of the ancient Yogis will be better understood in the light of modern research. And yet the theory of the Yogis is a better explanation. The two causes of evolution advanced by the moderns, viz sexual selection and survival of the fittest, are inadequate. Suppose human knowledge to have advanced so much as to eliminate competition, both from the function of acquiring physical sustenance and of acquiring a mate. Then, according to the moderns, human progress will stop and the race will die. The result of this theory is to furnish every oppressor with an argument to calm the qualms of conscience. Men are not lacking, who, posing as philosophers, want to kill out all wicked and incompetent persons (they are, of course, the only judges of competency) and thus preserve the human race! But the great ancient evolutionist, Patanjali, declares that the true secret of evolution is the manifestation of the perfection which is already in every being; that this perfection has been barred and the infinite tide behind is struggling to express itself. These struggles and competitions are but the results of our ignorance, because we do not know the proper way to unlock the gate and let the water in. This infinite tide behind must express itself; it is the cause of all manifestation. Competitions for life or sex-gratification are only momentary, unnecessary, extraneous effects, caused by ignorance. Even when all competition has ceased, this perfect nature behind will make us go forward until everyone has become perfect. Therefore there is no reason to believe that competition is necessary to progress. In the animal the man was suppressed, but as soon as the door was opened, out rushed man. So in man there is the potential god, kept in by the locks and bars of ignorance. When knowledge breaks these bars, the god becomes manifest.

The other evolution that is occurring is on the cosmic scale. Did intelligence evolve from non-intelligence or did intelligence come first? This is the classical chicken and egg problem - what came first the chicken or the egg? If you think in a straight line, then you are always going back infinitum. There were an infinite number of universes before our universe, adn there will be an infinite number after this universe is destroyed. Who can then say which is first? Swami Vivekananda comments on this (Complete Works, V1 pp 252-253) in his lengthy commentary to another verse in Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms (II. 19.) He says:

Next "the indicated only" means the Buddhi, the intellect. "The indicated only" is the first manifestation of nature; from it all other manifestations proceed. The last is "the signless". There seems to be a great difference between modern science and all religions at this point. Every religion has the idea that the universe comes out of intelligence. The theory of God, taking it in its psychological significance, apart from all ideas of personality, is that intelligence is first in the order of creation, and that out of intelligence comes what we call gross matter. Modern philosophers say that intelligence is the last to come. They say that unintelligent things slowly evolve into animals, and from animals into men. They claim that instead of everything coming out of intelligence, intelligence itself is the last to come. Both the religious and the scientific statements, though seeming directly opposed to each other are true. Take an infinite series, A—B—A—B —A—B. etc. The question is — which is first, A or B? If you take the series as A—B. you will say that A is first, but if you take it as B—A, you will say that B is first. It depends upon the way we look at it. Intelligence undergoes modification and becomes the gross matter, this again merges into intelligence, and thus the process goes on. The Sankhyas, and other religionists, put intelligence first, and the series becomes intelligence, then matter. The scientific man puts his finger on matter, and says matter, then intelligence. They both indicate the same chain. Indian philosophy, however, goes beyond both intelligence and matter, and finds a Purusha, or Self, which is beyond intelligence, of which intelligence is but the borrowed light.

Neither intelligence nor non-intelligence came first, Brahman came first.


According to Swami Vivekananda evolution has been discussed in Samkhya Darsana.

After this there was a short conversation on Darwin's evolution theory.

Rambrahma Babu: What is your opinion of the evolution theory of Darwin and the causes he has put forward for it?

Swamiji: Taking for granted that Darwin is right, I cannot yet admit that it is the final conclusion about the causes of evolution.

Rambrahma Babu: Did the ancient scholars of our country discuss this subject?

Swamiji: The subject has been nicely discussed in the Samkhya Philosophy. I am of opinion that the conclusion of the ancient Indian philosophers is the last word on the causes of evolution.

Rambrahma Babu: I shall be glad to hear of it, if it can be explained in a few words.

Swamiji: You are certainly aware of the laws of struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, natural selection, and so forth, which have been held by the Western scholars to be the causes of elevating a lower species to a higher. But none of these has been advocated as the cause of that in the system of Patanjali. Patanjali holds that the transformation of one species into another is effected by the "in-filling of nature" (प्रकृत्यापूरात्) It is not that this is done by the constant struggle against obstacles. In my opinion, struggle and competition sometimes stand in the way of a being's attaining its perfection. If the evolution of an animal is effected by the destruction of a thousand others, then one must confess that this evolution is doing very little good to the world. Taking it for granted that it conduces to physical well-being, we cannot help admitting that it is a serious obstacle to spiritual development. According to the philosophers of our country, every being is a perfect Soul, and the diversity of evolution and manifestation of nature is simply due to the difference in the degree of manifestation of this Soul. The moment the obstacles to the evolution and manifestation of nature are completely removed, the Soul manifests Itself perfectly. Whatever may happen in the lower strata of nature's evolutions, in the higher strata at any rate, it is not true that it is only by constantly struggling against obstacles that one has to go beyond them. Rather it is observed that there the obstacles give way and a greater manifestation of the Soul takes place through education and culture, through concentration and meditation, and above all through sacrifice. Therefore, to designate the obstacles not as the effects but as the causes of the Soul-manifestation, and describe them as aiding this wonderful diversity of nature, is not consonant with reason. The attempt to remove evil from the world by killing a thousand evil-doers, only adds to the evil in the world. But if the people can be made to desist from evil-doing by means of spiritual instruction, there is no more evil in the world. Now, see how horrible the Western struggle theory becomes!

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 7, Conversations and Dialogues, VIII

What does Swami Vivekananda mean?

He accepts Darwin's theory of evolution for animals. He and Hindu philosophy in general do not think that this theory applies in the spiritual realm.


The Linga Purana explains some sort of evolution on a macroscopic scale:

अतीतानि च कल्पानि सोदर्काणि सहान्वयैः ।
अनागतेषु तद्वच्च तर्कः कार्यो विजानता ॥ १४ ॥

atītāni ca kalpāni sodarkāṇi sahānvayaiḥ |
anāgateṣu tadvacca tarkaḥ kāryo vijānatā || 114 ||

“The past kalpas are such that they leave their consequences on the future ones along with (or including) the dynasties of Kings etc. and the same reasoning should be applied to future kalpas by the knowing man (i.e., the past has left its marks on the present and in the same way the future will carry the marks of the present).” verse 1.70.114

A kalpa represents a day (or night) of Brahma and amounts to 4.32 billion human years. Then 30 * 12 * 100 of these kalpas represent the life cycle of the universe so that leaves plenty of time for evolution to occur between those transitions.


Yes it is true. (Some cynics might dismiss it as co-incidence.)


First avatar is a fish, one which is creature living in water. If we compare it with biological evolution on different Geological Time Scale first developed life was also in the form of fish which originated during Cambrian period.


Second avatar was in the form of Tortoise (reptiles). In geology also first reptiles comes as second important evolution which originated in Mississippian period just after Amphibians. Varaha

Third avatar was in the form of Boar. Evolution of the amphibean to the land animal.


The Man-Lion (Nara= man, simha=lion) was the fourth avatar. But in geology no such evidences are mentioned. It may have been related with Ape Man The term may sometimes refer to extinct early human ancestors, such as the undiscovered missing link between apes and humans.


Fifth Avatar is the dwarf man. It may be related with the first man originated during Pliocene.


The man with an axe was the sixth avatar. It has the similarities with the first modern man originated during Quaternary period or the man of Iron Age.

Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and Lord Buddha were the seventh, eighth and ninth other avatars of Lord Vishnu. It indicates the physical and mental changes and evolution in the man from its time of appearance.

Taken from here: http://theepicworld.blogspot.com/2010/04/similarity-between-darwinism-and.html

This is not only physical evolution but also evolution of consciousness at each stage of evolution of species.

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    i am a medical doctor, AFAIK the first living organism was unicellular bacteria (phytoplankton) and fish came into existence much later Dec 3, 2014 at 18:02
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    @agha rehan abbas, evolution is complicated & not linear. 10 Avatar's can't fit the whole evolution of species. The 10 avatars is a symbolic approximation of the evolution of consciousness.
    – Bharat
    Dec 6, 2014 at 1:20
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    @agharehanabbas, Dharma is not religion. Please go do some research on it before flaunting your credentials of being a medical doctor & indulging in vitanda vaada. Thank you.
    – Bharat
    Jan 3, 2015 at 17:10
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    This popular notion of the dasavatara portraying evolution is incorrect and one retro-fitted to "modern scientific inclination". According to bhagavata puranam, the very first avatara was Yagnya varaha avatara not matsya.
    – user1195
    Feb 10, 2015 at 15:08
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    @moonstar2001 Can you elaborate on this? What's the relation between the order of the Avataras and astrology? Mar 12, 2015 at 16:03

Matsya Aquatic lifeform.

Koorma Semi-Aquatic lifeform.

Varaha First Mammal

Narashimha Half man-Half Human.

Vamana Dwarf. The act of stepping on MahaBali(Asura) and burying him in the ground signifies suppression of animal tendencies.

ParashuRama The Parashu(axe) signifies Hunter-Gatherer.

BhargavaRama The Plough signifies Agriculture and of man settling down after the nomadic phase of Hunter-Gatherer's life.

Rama A ruler or King and able administrator of a Kingdom.

Krishna Complete evolution of "Buddhi" aspect and strategist of war.

Buddha/Ayyapa/Christ Depending on whom people choose to believe as the ninth avatar - a Tapasi, Renunciate, Healer, Preacher of Love(Love thy enemy as you would love your friend).

Kalki Final stage of evolution with the white horse signifying purity.

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    You should cite sources. May 2, 2015 at 4:51
  • @Keshav Unfortunately, Don't have any. This is one question which has a lot to do with informed inference or speculative interpretation rather than definitive knowledge. As you mentioned in a previous thread Vishnu has innumerable avatars and the Dasavathara concept does not have any solid grounding. I completely understand the relevance of citations in a community like stackexchange, but in Hinduism knowledge is also transmitted/inherited through Oral acharya-shisya Upanasa as it through cited sources.
    – Naveen
    May 2, 2015 at 4:58
  • Well, speculation-based answers are not allowed on this site. As far as oral traditions go, if a user on this site happens to be part of some established Guru-Parampara, then it might be acceptable for them to quote something from that Guru or Acharya. But just engaging in speculation of your own isn't allowed here. May 2, 2015 at 5:02
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    Yeah, the other answer isn't really well-sourced either, but it's from the site's early days before standards were enforced, so it's "grandfathered in". As far as the Dashavataram goes, it doesn't have a basis in scripture; it's just different lists people make of what they consider the top ten, as I discuss here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/935/36. So I don't think there's any reason to believe that the order of the incarnations is related to evolution. Besides, the conventional order isn't even chronological; in real life Varaha came in the beginning of the Kalpa, long before Kurma. May 2, 2015 at 5:20
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    Varaha took place in the Swayambhuva Manvantara (although he is still alive on the Earth today, as I discuss in this answer). As far as Matsya goes, Vishnu incarnated as Matsya twice: once in the last Pralaya, to retrieve the Vedas which has been stolen by Hayagrivasura, and again in the Chakshusha Manvantara, to save the king Satyavrata from the flood; see this chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam: vedabase.com/en/sb/8/24 And Prasuti was the daughter of Swayambhuva Manu; see this chapter of the Bhagavatam: vedabase.com/en/sb/4/1 May 2, 2015 at 5:41

I've seen a YouTube video that I am unable to find again that says that a Vedic text says that beings evolve from most complex being to the simplest being (backwards from scientific conception) ... Is this true?

Most likely you are referring to the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, a Vedic text which suggests that humans evolved (created?) before other lifeforms:

Chapter I > Section IV - The Creation and Its Cause

  1. In the beginning, this (universe) was but the self (Virāj) of a human form. He reflected and found nothing else but himself. He first uttered, ‘I am he.’ Therefore he was called Aham (I). Hence, to this day, when a person is addressed, he first says, ‘It is I,’ and then says the other name that he may have. Because he was first and before this whole (band of aspirants) burnt all evils, therefore he is called Puruṣa. He who knows thus indeed burns one who wants to be (Virāj) before him. (1.4.1)

  2. He was afraid. Therefore people (still) are afraid to be alone. He thought, ‘If there is nothing else but me, what am I afraid of?’ From that alone his fear was gone, for what was there to fear? It is from a second entity that fear comes. (1.4.2)

  3. He was not at all happy. Therefore people (still) are not happy when alone. He desired a mate. He became as big as man and wife embracing each other. He parted this very body into two. From that came husband and wife. Therefore, said Yājñavalkya, this (body) is one-half of oneself, like one of the two halves of a split pea. Therefore this space is indeed filled by the wife. He was united with her. From that men were born. (1.4.3)

    (Commentary: He, the Virāj called Manu, was united with her, his daughter called Śatarūpā, whom he conceived of as his wife. From that union men were born.)

  4. She thought, ‘How can he be united with me after producing me from himself? Well, let me hide myself.’ She became a cow, the other became a bull and was united with her; from that cows were born. The one became a mare, the other a stallion; the one became a she-ass, the other became a he-ass and was united with her; from that one-hoofed animals were born. The one became a she-goat, the other a he-goat; the one became a ewe, the other became a ram and was united with her; from that goats and sheep were born. Thus did he project everything that exists in pairs, down to the ants. (1.4.4)

  5. He knew, ‘I indeed am the creation, for I projected all this.’ Therefore he was called Creation. He who knows this as such becomes (a creator) in this creation of Virāj. (1.4.5)

  6. Then he rubbed back and forth thus, and produced fire from its source, the mouth and the hands...This is the super-creation of Virāj that he projected the gods, who are even superior to him. Because he, although mortal himself, projected the immortals, therefore this is a super-creation. He who knows this as such becomes (a creator) in this super-creation of Virāj.


My answer is quite simple while the basic tenets of evolution for the most part can be accepted it being natural and its formation from one species ie a single-celled organism cannot be accepted as the Vedic view is creationist. As per this answer by Bing-Ming (Physical changes in other lifeforms in each Yuga) and (https://sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03189.htm) "Know, O Yudhishthira, that the period of life, the energy, intellect and the physical strength of men decrease in every Yuga! O Pandava, the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and Vaisyas and Sudras, (in the Kali age) will practise morality and virtue deceitfully and men in general will deceive their fellows by spreading the net of virtue. And men with false reputation of learning will, by their acts, cause Truth to be contracted and concealed. And in consequence of the shortness of their lives they will not be able to acquire much knowledge. And in consequence of the littleness of their knowledge, they will have no wisdom. And for this, covetousness and avarice will overwhelm them all. And wedded to avarice and wrath and ignorance and lust men will entertain animosities towards one another, desiring to take one another's"

Here are mentions of species changing over time in Ithihasas and Puranas. Similarly, the Dashavatara, for the most is common knowledge each comes in a certain Yuga. Now I am not equating this with the modern scientific theory of evolution or stating Darwin copied the idea that would be false indeed. I am simply saying some rudimentary tenets of evolution seem to be accepted in scripture which questions whether some things are a coincidence. That being said this could be more seen in terms of morality than physical change.

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